"Oh, wow," Hot Train Guy says. "That's—wow."
Gerard looks up just as the train starts moving and stumbles into the post, trying frantically to keep his balance and his coffee.
"Sorry, dude, whoa," Hot Train Guy says. "Didn't mean to freak you out." His hand is on Gerard's elbow, holding him steady; Gerard shrugs.
"I'm just not used to that much excitement this early," he says. Hot Train Guy grins, letting go of Gerard's arm to gesture at his head.
"Well, maybe you should have thought about that before you hit the peroxide," he says. "Is it true that blonds have more fun?"
"I—" Gerard blinks, fishbowl-awkward, and then shrugs again. "Ask me in a week or two," he says, and goes back to his coffee.
It's just another morning with Hot Train Guy.
It's not like Gerard's stalking Hot Train Guy or anything. He doesn't know his address, or what he does, or whether or not he's single, or his name, or anything really, except that he takes the 7:45 train from Hoboken to the WTC, loves the Times crossword, has at least one tattoo, and is really, really hot. If Gerard ever got to the train station early, he might know more than that—Hot Train Guy, unlike Gerard, is always there well ahead of time—but since that would involve actually striking up a conversation, it's probably for the best that Gerard is chronically almost-late.
And, really, that's all Gerard wants to know. Probably Hot Train Guy kicks puppies or robs grandmothers or thinks that comics "aren't real art", but as long as Gerard sticks to the occasional awkward train conversation, none of that matters. He can help Hot Train Guy out with the crossword, and complain with him about the train getting stuck between two stations for twenty minutes, what the fuck, and he can stare at the tattoos that peek out above the collar of his shirt, and that's fine—that's plenty. Anything more would be way, way too much for Gerard to deal with.
It's not that Gerard's life is exciting, or even all that busy. He works for Cartoon Network, which is kind of his dream job but also involves a lot more meetings and a lot less drawing than he really wants. Some of that's just the shine wearing off, seeing the relentlessly bureaucratic underbelly of his dreamworld—but some of it is just that Gerard only got hired two years and one month ago, so he's still basically the low man on the totem pole. Maybe someday, he'll be good enough and lucky enough to break away, draw his own comic and not have to follow other people's lines. In the meantime, though, it's a job, and they don't care if he doodles or hums or bleaches his hair over the weekend, which is really pretty badass.
But Gerard is awkward, and Hot Train Guy, while definitely attractive, has a tendency to blush and fidget, and, really, it's just better that they stay train buddies. That is what Gerard's decided, and that's what he's going to do. He helps Hot Train Guy with his crossword—and, yeah, sometimes Gerard looks at the clues over his shoulder to give himself time to think of the answers in case Hot Train Guy asks him, but whatever. That's normal, that's Gerard being a helpful human being and looking out for Train Guy's crossword puzzles.
(Mikey, when Gerard tells him this, doesn't say anything, doesn't even look up from his phone.
"Come on, Mikey," Gerard says. "It's not that lame."
Mikey snaps the phone shut and turns sideways, swinging his legs over the arm of the chair. His phone buzzes, and he flips it open again.
Gerard shifts, uncomfortable. "Well," he says. "Yeah, okay, it kind of is."
Mikey glances up, rolling his eyes. "Well, duh," he says, and Gerard grins.
"Love you too, Mikes," he says.)
So Hot Train Guy is out, which leaves Gerard with a few options. He could look around the office, where everybody is just as nerdy as he is (not a drawback) and just as insanely busy (kind of a problem). He thinks about asking Sexy Inker Chick out for coffee, or seeing if Absurdly Good-Looking HR Man likes Chinese food, but then he walks in on them making out in the supply closet on the 17th floor, which pretty much resolves that question.
He could let his mom set him up with one of her friends' daughters, but he still has a little pride, and also he still hasn't gotten over the girl who sent him a bouquet of red roses after pizza at Larry's 'Za. He could go out clubbing with Mikey, but—well, but he couldn't. There are things no older brother needs to see, and most of those things are things Mikey likes to do on Saturday nights.
All of which leaves him with Plan D: wait for coincidence to strike. And, in the meantime, spend altogether too much time on craigslist.
He mostly avoids the actual personals. In general, they're repetitively pornographic, and the ones that aren't are either weirdly intimate or just weird. He likes the "missed connections" forum, though—it's neat to see what people notice, what they remember, what is and isn't important. He keeps two windows open, one with m4m and one with w4m, and refreshes them whenever he gets bored.
And then one Friday in August the A/C units band together and explode in a wave of cooling fluid and short circuits, and everybody on Gerard's floor gets to pack up their drawings and their laptops and head home at 1:45. Gerard takes a nap when he gets home, face-down on his bed with a pillow over his head. He wakes up around seven to the sounds of his mom fixing dinner, and for a long minute he just stays there, listening to the clank of pans and the shush of water down the drain, the soft impact of his mother's footsteps over his head.
He's probably got twenty minutes or so, which isn't enough time to go back to sleep or to get any real work done, which means guilt-free time-wasting. He opens up his laptop and brings up the craigslist windows, and that's when he sees the ad.
It's titled train buddy, where were you tonight?. It's not that Gerard thinks it'll be Hot Train Guy, but he likes the idea that other people do this too, have these weird quarter-friendships based on eight minutes round trip in the same train car with forty other people. Besides, it's Friday night—Hot Train Guy is probably out partying, sweating through his shirt, showing off his tattoos (Gerard is certain, somehow, that he has more than the one). Hot Train Guy, shy as he is, is definitely not the sort of dude who comes straight home on a Friday afternoon to post to craigslist about a guy he's only talked to about a dozen times.
dude, the message says, you should have been here tonight. you could have helped me figure out what the guy by the door was wearing. half three-piece suit, half spandex!! it was insane, wish you could have seen it. It's signed 19/jersey, which just clinches it; there's no way that Hot Train Guy is only nineteen years old.
not the guy you're looking for, Gerard types, but I have to ask: which half was spandex? He dithers for a second over actually sending it, but, well, he's curious. Half spandex and half suit sounds pretty amazing, and also a lot like something a supervillain would wear.
"Gerard?" It's Mikey, standing at the top of the steps; if Gerard turns, he can just barely see the toes of his sneakers. "Dinner's almost ready."
"Yeah, okay," Gerard says, "I'll be right up." He looks at the message one more time, then shrugs, hits send, and heads upstairs.
Dinner is pasta and zucchini and questions about work, as usual. Gerard gets so caught up in explaining the actually really interesting plotline that CN's come up with for their new show that he pretty much forgets about the craigslist ad, so at first the picture makes no sense at all: a blurry cell-phone picture of a man in electric blue tights and a blazer, leaning up against a pole and looking away from the camera.
the bottom half :( the message says. i think i'm scarred for life. you?
Gerard grins. same, he types. did he get kicked out of a phone booth too soon?
The response comes less than ten minutes later. possibly, Mysterious Internet Guy has written, although it looks more supervillain to me.
it's the bowler hat, Gerard writes back. dudes in bowler hats are always evil. Strange, but true.
that seems unfair, is the reply. what about top hats?
Gerard actually has to think about it. i don't know, he says finally. i think it's either a jaunty cap or a helmet for the good guys.
They go on for a while like that, back and forth, until Gerard can barely keep his eyes open. i don't think that you can really count green arrow, he sends, and then staggers the few feet from his desk to his bed and passes out.
In the morning, he sleeps through his alarm and has to scramble to get to the train station even a little bit on time. He almost doesn't make it—stumbles through the closing doors, arms windmilling madly, trying to grab onto the pole as the train starts moving. He misses, of course, and there's no Hot Train Guy to help him stay vertical this time, so he goes flying, portfolio skidding under the seats while he smacks facefirst into the floor. The train is mercifully empty, though, and the few people who are there look politely away while he collects his stuff and dusts off his knees and elbows.
At least he hadn't had time to get coffee.
In the city, he speedwalks the five blocks to his building, dodging passers-by and a startlingly high number of tourists. He looks longingly at the Starbucks he usually stops at, but he really can't be any later than he already is; he'll be a zombie by noon, but that's what he gets for hitting SNOOZE five times in a row. He makes it through the lobby and up to the 26th floor, and it isn't until he hits the locked door of his department that it hits him: it's Saturday.
His phone vibrates in his pocket, and he flips it open to read Mikey's text: second time this month. do you need days of the week underwear?
i'm going to the park to draw, Gerard says. also, fuck you.
He means it as a joke, but once he's out on the sidewalk, blinking in the midmorning sun, it actually sounds like a pretty good idea. He heads for the park he can sort-of see from his office window, stopping for coffee along the way, and sets up on a bench in the shade. He doesn't generally draw specific people—it always feels weird, drawing them when they don't know about it—but he notices little details, putting this man's hat on that woman's head, adding a particular twist of the shoulders from the girl pushing kids on the swings and finishing it off with a swirl of tentacles. He doesn't achieve anything earth-shattering, but it's nice all the same, sitting in the shifting shade for a few hours, mixing and matching parts.
Eventually, though, his knees get sore from sitting crosslegged, and his stomach is growling, and, well, why spend time in the city when he doesn't actually have anything to do? He hops back on the train, flipping through the pages of new sketches, and makes it home in time to steal half of Mikey's sandwich.
Downstairs, he opens up his email and sits there, staring. He has half a dozen new messages, all of them from firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first one is just a continuation of their conversation: why did you even email me if you're just going to say green arrow doesn't count?
The second, sent less than a minute later, reads: actually no you're right he totally doesn't. my question stands, though: why'd you email me? secret haberdashery fetish? followed quickly by fine be that way. what kind of a lame fucker is asleep at 1 am on a friday?
There's a nine-hour pause, then, and then at 10:04 the emails start back up: how much do you fucking sleep, anyway?, followed at 11:12 by it's 9-1-1, dumbshit and then shit, dude, i was kidding. are you okay? at 1:45.
At 2:32—fifteen minutes ago, Gerard realizes—there's another email. or i guess it could be the obvious answer: i'm being creepy again. sorry for harassing you.
dude, no, Gerard says. you're totally creepy, but i just forgot that it was saturday and accidentally went into work.
The reply is almost instantaneous: LOSER. but clearly i am too, so that's okay, we can still be friends. so, again: why'd you email me?
Gerard thinks about it for a while, but decides to go with honesty. He's just told Mysterious Internet Dude that he went in to work on Saturday without meaning to; he's not exactly going to lose cred, here. i have a train buddy too, he sends. not, like, an actual friend, just a hot guy who rides my train in the mornings. i thought it was neat that somebody else had the same situation.
neat would be me getting up the balls to talk to this guy :(, and, wow, Gerard can feel that. but, yeah, i get it—it's cool not to be the only one. also, hey, what's your name, stranger? i'm frank
gerard, fellow shy loser, Gerard sends. you're at rutgers?
Over the course of the afternoon, they keep talking. Frank is at Rutgers, studying psychology, but he's working an internship at a music company in the city this summer. it's kind of the best and the worst job ever, he writes. i'm working for all these awesome bands, but i'm not actually really getting to do half of what i want to. Gerard sympathizes, tells him what it's like to work at CN, the awesome points (drawing, hanging out with talented, dorky people during his lunch breaks) and the sucky parts (everything and everyone else).
Mikey has to yell down four times before he comes up for dinner.
Gerard sends lots of e-mails over the next week and a half, and gets even more, because Frank doesn't always wait for a response before sending another message, starting a new train of thought or just adding something he forgot to mention. It's a lot of fun—Frank's funny, cracking jokes about anything and everything, and also profoundly nerdy in all of the right ways. His lightning-fast responses make Gerard's workdays move faster, even if it is sometimes a hassle to have to explain to nosy-Rob-in-the-next-cubicle, well, Gerard will take it over checking the time five times in four minutes.
Plus, it's gratifying—in a way that is totally not weird or creepy, no matter what Mikey has to say about it—to get to work and have e-mail he actually wants to read.
It doesn't magically make Gerard more self-confident or less awkward or anything, but somehow nonetheless he has several conversations with Hot Train Guy. They're short, of course, and mostly about the news or the other passengers on the train, but they're still awesome, in a lame sort of way.
It doesn't last, of course. Gerard's running late, and for once it's not his fault. He gets up on time, gets showered and dressed and grabs breakfast and is almost out the door when Mikey shoves the box into his hands.
"Mikey, come on," Gerard says.
"It's kitchen stuff for Aunt Judy," Mikey says, making what passes for puppy dog eyes when you're Mikey Way. "Come on, Gee, it's on your way, and if I go you know she'll make me stay for dinner." Probably with one of her neighbors, colllege age girls who are probably perfectly nice except for how they always look like they'd rather be eating raw sewage than sitting at Judith Way's table.
"What, and not me?"
Mikey smiles, more or less. "Not if you go on your lunch break."
"Mikey," Gerard says, but Mikey's got a point. It'll mean eating his sandwich on the train and not emailing with Frank, but on the whole he'd rather that than subject either of them to another of Aunt Judy's blind dates. "Fuck, fine, you owe me one."
"You're going to be late."
"You owe me two, then." He stuffs the box—which is heavy as all fuck, probably full of solid lead salad tongs or something ridiculous—into his bag and runs for the train.
He makes it, but just barely, ducking through the doors as they close yet again. The train takes off before he's ready, and he only barely manages to catch himself on the pole. His bag goes flying, and there's the tell-tale snick that means the zipper's broken again, and a dull thud that's probably the stupid tongs falling out. Plus, he's leaning right into some poor dude's face. Crotch-first.
And it's not just any dude, of course. These things never come in threes, where Gerard's concerned—they come in fives and tens and hundreds, like whoever's trying to screw him over on this particular day decided to buy in bulk and save on shipping. Gerard backs away, trying to grin apologetically at Hot Train Guy without making any actual eye contact.
"Um, hi," Hot Train Guy says. "Nice...package."
"Um?" Gerard says, and falls over.
And of course Hot Train Guy tries to help him up, and of course Gerard accidentally kicks him in the shins trying to scramble up on his own. He mutters out his thanks and sits down—on the other side of the train, thank you very much, in a window seat where he can stare at the train tracks and pretend that he isn't the biggest loser in the entire world.
"Um," Hot Train Guy says, tapping on his shoulder. "You dropped your—um, your box?"
Of course he did.
"Sorry to bother you," Hot Train Guy says. "Just, you know. I didn't want you to forget it." He grins a little, turning pink. "Especially since I kind of made you drop it."
Gerard wants to say that it's fine, not to worry, but he's too busy choking on his tongue to say anything. Hot Train Dude just made a joke about his dick, and instead of saying something smooth or cool or in English, Gerard fell over. He can't wait until he gets to work, where he can sit in his cubicle and draw vampires and die peacefully of embarrassment.
When he gets in, though, there's a mandatory meeting—something about appropriate uses of the color copier; Gerard ignores it—and then it's somebody's birthday and there's cake, and it's almost eleven before he checks his email.
help me gerard i suck at LIFE is the title, and Gerard clicks on it with a grin. At least he's not the only one having a shitty day today. The smile drops right off his face once he starts reading, though.
gerard help oh god i just made an ACCIDENTAL dick joke at sexy train dude and it freaked him out so much he fell over and then he hid on the other side of the train i'm going to die alone and tragically embarrassed save me?
For a split second Gerard thinks about asking for details, but then the second email pops up in his inbox. IT WAS A BOX OF FORKS AND I AM GOING TO HELL is the title, which pretty much settles it.
The message has no text, just a sad smiley face:
Gerard takes a deep breath and starts typing.
what kind of a crazy person carries a box of forks around? he writes. also, if he's too much of a loser to handle one little accidental dick joke, you can do better.
He tries to focus on his work, but really he winds up just staring at the papers on his desk until his email chimes again.
thanks for trying to cheer me up, frank says, but he actually seems pretty awesome and i think i'm going go crawl into a hole and die some more.
Gerard starts a few (dozen) emails and deletes them all half-finished, feeling awkward and inappropriate and exposed, until finally he manages to make it all the way through one.
no, seriously, it reads, what do you even know about this guy? he's a million years older than you, which is...not all wrong, he's probably a creepy perv who lives in his mother's basement or something Half true, whatever.
he's not that much older, Frank says. maybe twenty-six? Twenty-five, actually, and Gerard's not sure whether or not it's okay that he's a little annoyed. he used to have this shaggy black hair, but then he cut most of it off and bleached the rest white, and it's kind of ridiculous but really hot.
Gerard touches his hair and feels like a horrible human being. but, seriously, he writes, so what? so a random hot dude thinks you're a loser—what does it really matter? He only hesitates a second before adding, and probably he's a serial killer anyways.
you're probably right, Frank writes back, but—fuck, i don't know. i normally just get drunk and then make out with people, you know? and oh, that's something Gerard is absolutely not going to think about. i was trying to flirt like a normal human being, but i guess normal human beings only make dick jokes when they mean to.
if the guy can't handle a few dick jokes, he's got an enormous stick up his ass, Gerard says. and you could definitely do better.
He's expecting a reply within the next few minutes, but no matter how much he refreshes his email, nothing shows up. He's almost ready to send himself an email, just to see if there's something wrong with his inbox, when Larry from across the aisle pokes his head in and asks if he wants to go get lunch. Gerard almost says yes, but then he sees the goddamn box that started this whole thing.
"No, thanks," he says, sighing. "I've got to go take some forks to my aunt."
He figures Frank's just distracted—it happens fairly often—but when he comes back from Aunt Judy's, bearing a fruitcake and the number of "a very nice girl, really", the contents of his inbox are unchanged.
He doesn't mind, though. He's got some vampire sketches he's been meaning to work on.
When Gerard gets back from his lunch break the next day, though, there's another email from Frank, this one titled no seriously i am the biggest idiot ever just kill me now, and Gerard opens it in a hurry, because he hadn't seen Frank on the train that morning and he really hopes Frank isn't in jail or married to a hooker or in Iowa or something.
my friends took me out last night. did you know "soothe your broken heart" is code for "get you so drunk you can't see straight"? i'm calling in sick to life, but i wanted to say thanks for being awesome.
in between my busy schedule of puking my guts up and staring at the ceiling. kill me now please?
Gerard rolls his eyes. oldest trick in the book. did it at least work? also, are you even old enough to drink?
nineteen, asshole, is Frank's reply. but are you going to tell me that you waited until you were 21? ps: you sound like my mom.
The series of jokes about Frank's mother (and then Gerard's mother, and then Frank's grandmother...) takes most of the rest of the afternoon, and then the next morning Frank smiles at him on the train and they're back to normal, more or less. Gerard feels like a creep every time he helps Frank with the crossword, but it's not like he didn't already feel like a creep, so that's okay. And when he's emailing with Frank, he mostly blocks out the fact that Frank is smoking hot and nineteen, and just grins at his stupid jokes and ridiculous stories.
Eventually, it gets so that they're almost separate people, in Gerard's mind. There's the Frank he emails with, who is smart and funny and likes old horror movies and tattoos and wants to scream in a punk band when he grows up, if not sooner, who's working at a label on a summer internship and living with his mother and majoring in psychology at Rutgers. Frank is a little goofy and seriously geeky, and smokes up now and then but only skips classes when he has actual work to do.
And then there's the hot guy who takes Gerard's train in the morning, who likes the seat next to the door and the crossword and who just coincidentally happens to be named Frank.
It's kind of schizophrenic, but it's what works for Gerard, and he's going with it.
That works fine for another three weeks, but then it's the end of August, sweaty and miserable, and Gerard winds up pressed against Frank on the train, breathing shallowly and trying not to stare.
"So, hey," Frank says, totally breaking Gerard's not-staring thing, "I know this is a little awkward, but today's the last day of my internship."
"Oh," Gerard says. "Really?" He'd known that, in a general sort of way—Frank's big showcase thing is tonight, the culminating project of his internship, the thing he's been bitching about for a month straight—and it makes sense that, with that done, Frank's internship would...culminate.
Gerard just hadn't really thought about what that would mean.
"And so, like," Frank says. "I have this showcase thing for the bands I've been working with, and I get to put two people on the guest list, and, like. We're kind of—I mean, we see each other all the time, and, I don't know. You seemed like you might be interested?" Frank glances down and shrugs. "I don't know, whatever, never mind—"
"No," Gerard says. "No, I mean—I mean, yeah!" Frank looks back up, eyes wide, biting his—fuck, biting his lip, and Gerard is going to hell, no question.
"I'd love to come," Gerard says. "Stick up for my train buddy and all."
"Great!" Frank says, beaming and Gerard can't help grinning back at him. Frank ducks down, rummages in his bag, comes back up brandishing a pen. "Right, okay," he says, "um, again, awkward, but what's your name?"
"Ge—Garry," Gerard says, and somewhere Mikey is laughing at him and doesn't know why, but right now the only thing that matters is getting off the train before Frank realizes what an utter creep Gerard is and does his own running away. "Got to run, bye," he says, and ducks through the doors just before the train pulls out of the station.
Of course, the next train is both late and packed to the gills, so by the time Gerard gets in to work, he's sweaty, rumpled, and half an hour late, in addition to being a terrible human being. He's half dreading another email from Frank, this one full of horrified realization and threats to report Gerard to whatever organization deals with twentysomething comic book artists who hit on unsuspecting college kids.
When he finally gets up the balls to check his email, though, the only email from Frank is one titled UGH THIS FUCKING SHOWCASE HOW IS IT NOT DONE YET? i am going to kill myself with a spoon why didn't i just write the fucking paper? please build me a time machine so i can go back in time and smack myself for being a fucking dumbass.
you know i can't, Gerard says, relieved. if i were going to, you'd remember it. also, it's not going to suck, so stop freaking out.
YES IT IS. Frank says. I'm going to have to go and herd GOATS in MONGOLIA. The message is titled go suck a dick, mr. paradox.
how bad can it possibly be? Gerard sends back, in a message titled just because it makes your head hurt.... you've been working on this for over a month; how badly can it go wrong?
the lead singer of defeated girlfriend has been hooking up with the bassist of mega memory's girlfriend, or maybe with the bassist of MM, or maybe BOTH. and the drummers from poor garbanzo and atrophy cradle are in some kind of hatfields and mccoys shit, and nobody's seen the keyboardist from silent of the ugly since last thursday, when he was headed for 7-11. And, well, Frank maybe has a point, but if Gerard tells him that, he'll just psych himself out even more. Gerard's working on a way to stay encouraging without actually lying when his email dings again.
ps if you want to come and see the trainwreck in action, it's 7:30 pm at Horizons; doors are $7 but you're on the list.
There's really only one thing Gerard can say to that, and so—after typing and deleting half a dozen emails and wishing for some shred of decency—he says, thanks, dude! see you then, if the bands don't get to you first.
Frank will be disappointed when neither his internet pen-pal nor his train buddy show up, but he's going back to college in a few weeks. He'll get over it pretty soon.
On the train home, Gerard rests his head against the window and feels like a shitty human being. It's the only way, of course—if he'd said he wasn't coming, Frank would have tried to talk, trick, or triple-dog-dare him into coming. He would have succeeded, too, and then Gerard would have gone to the damn showcase, and Frank would have realized that his email buddy and his train buddy were the same person, and then Frank would have hated him forever.
Frank may well hate him forever anyway, but at least this way Gerard doesn't have to watch his face while he does it.
It's kind of a shame, though—not the part about not seeing Frank's moment of horrified realization, but the part where he won't get to go to the show. He's never heard of any of the bands that are playing, but Frank's got good taste in music, and Gerard trusts him. Besides, even if the bands sucked, from all that Frank's said they'll suck in an entertaining and possibly spectacular way. Any show that might end in a fistfight or an orgy is a show worth checking out, as far as Gerard's concerned.
He watches as the train goes back aboveground, his temple thumping erratically against the cool glass, and then he realizes that it's not just the thud and rattle of the train: his cell phone is vibrating frantically in his pocket.
It's a text message from a number he doesn't recognize, and it reads: sry this is frank i saved ur number frm ur email like a creepy stalker pls come save me anyways?
Gerard frowns, closes the message, then notices that there's another one from the same number: thnk god your coming tonite u can help me hide the bodies right?
And fuck this shit, Gerard thinks. So he's a creepy pervert—so what? He's also Frank's friend, and friends show up at their friends' punk rock showcases at help them deal with crazy musicians and nervous breakdowns and other catastrophes. Friends don't leave friends alone in bars on their last night in the city.
Besides, Frank is clearly pretty creepy himself.
Gerard doesn't have time to go home and change; fortunately, CN doesn't really have a dress code, not if you work in the Art Shack. He doesn't look especially interesting, but he won't stick out too much. At the next stop, Gerard swings out onto the platform and clatters across the steel walkway, skids to a halt on the other platform and tries not to think about how this is probably a bad idea.
While he's waiting, he programs Frank's number into his phone.
He almost hesitates outside the club, but there are enough people actually waiting that he'd feel like a jackass if he just loitered around. Instead, Gerard steps up to the bouncer—not especially tall or broad, but blank-faced and solid and kind of terrifying—and smiles nervously.
"Um, hi," he says. "Gerard?"
"No," the guy says, raising an eyebrow. "I'm Bob."
"No, I mean—me," Gerard says, "I'm Gerard. Way. Um." He can feel his ears turning red, and hopes it's dark enough that Bob can't tell; from the smirk that Bob's not bothering to hide, it's probably not. That or Bob is just smirking at Gerard in a general sort of way, which—well. Gerard wouldn't really blame him. "Um, I'm on the list?" he says, hoping that that will be enough.
Bob raises an eyebrow. "The list?" he says, and Gerard's heart sinks. "There's no—oh, wait," he says, his smirk growing wider. "Are you Frank's guy?"
Gerard almost asks which one, then thinks better of it and nods instead. "I am, yeah."
Bob stares at him for a few endless seconds—during which Gerard thinks about all of the ways Bob probably has of breaking a man in half with only his pinky finger—and then nods.
"He's in the back somewhere—just follow the yelling," he says, and waves Gerard through.
Inside, it's smoky, and dark, but not too loud; the band onstage seems more interested in dancing (using their mic stands as poles) than in doing soundcheck, and there's a group of people hanging around the sound booth, talking and occasionally laughing.
He takes up a place by the wall and tries to disappear, but then a few of the techs come through and need to get at the door he's leaning against, and he goes back to standing uncertainly in the middle of the room. It looks like there are some chairs over to one side, somewhere he could sit and be less obviously awkward, and he's just about to head over there when he hears Frank's voice.
"Jesus, fuck, what the—can't you people even—Oh!" Frank turns away from the guy he's shouting at and comes over to Gerard, grinning. "Hi!" he says. "I wasn't sure you'd make it—you got off the train so fast, I mean." He grins a little, bouncing on his toes and looking up at Gerard. "Garry, right?"
"I—" Gerard takes a deep breath, watches his chance to be a good person pass by, smiles back at Frank. "Yeah, Garry."
"Great!" Frank's insane energy makes sense, here—motion and music, not a suit and an office. "Great," Frank says again, then glances over his shoulder and frowns. "Richard, I don't know where the fuck you think you're going, but—"
"Hey," Gerard says, "hey, if you need to go—" he waves his hand at Richard, who does kind of look like he's going to make a break for it, "—deal with stuff, I can wait."
Frank rolls his eyes, but he nods. "Yeah, cool, we'll catch up once I've dealt with this asshole. Don't run away?" Fortunately, he turns away before he can see Gerard wince.
Sound check kicks into gear a little while after that; when it quiets down, Gerard can sometimes hear Frank yelling at other people. The doors open, letting in a rush of people and Bob's knowing smile, which Gerard ignores in favor of staking a place near the front of the stage, over to the left by the hallway that leads backstage. Soon, the lights go dimmer and Frank steps onstage.
"So, hi," he says, adjusting the mic down. He's a little nervous, but it works on him, makes him grin and fidget and even giggle a little bit. "I'm Frank Iero, and this is the Best Young Punk showcase—we lined up a lot of great for this thing, but none of them showed up, so I hope you like the assholes we conned into doing this. Enjoy the fucking show!" He leaps off the stage, stumbles into a few people, and winds up next to Gerard, shoulder to shoulder. He's practically vibrating; Gerard can feel it through the glancing contact.
"That was fast," Gerard says.
Frank shrugs. "Short and sweet," he says. "Mike"—Frank's boss, who Frank likes to call "a pussycat in a troll suit"—"threatened to kill me if I didn't keep it under thirty words." He turns to watch the band setting up with a proud smile; Gerard watches the play of shitty lighting over Frank's face, his neck, his arms.
He does have more than one tattoo; Gerard was right.
"So, hey," Frank says, "want to go somewhere and talk?" He bites his lip. "I mean, we're going to be able to hear these guys for blocks, so unless you really want to dance..."
"Yeah, sure," Gerard says, trying hard not to think about how Frank might dance. "Lead the way."
Frank takes them out the side door to a tiny alley; it's moonlit and muggy and vaguely stinky, but Frank just leans against the wall and smiles at Gerard.
"So, um, hi," he says. "I'm Frank!" He giggles a little. "Did I already say that?"
"Onstage," Gerard says, "but, you know. Better safe than sorry." He smiles, and Frank grins, and then they stand there staring at each other, listening to the dull thud of the bass line from inside the club. "They sound good," he says, just to say something.
Frank rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. "It took them long enough, but yeah, they do." When Gerard raises his eyebrows, Frank takes a deep breath and starts telling the whole dramatic story of the bassist from mega memory and his girlfriend and how their sex lives wound up involving almost everybody at the show. Gerard's already gotten bits and pieces of it over email, but it's better like this, with Frank gesturing and laughing and making faces. Plus, he hadn't heard the ending, which turns out to involve identical twins, a crate of papayas, and a major accounting firm.
"And the moral of the story," Frank declares, "is that you shouldn't trust a man carrying fresh fruit." He frowns. "Or maybe the moral is that I should never ask how anybody's girlfriend is doing."
"Or that accountants are evil," Gerard offers, and Frank just laughs.
"Dude, I already knew that," he says. "But speaking of accountants—"
He tells a story about his friend Gabe and how he almost started a cult, which somehow leads to Gerard telling the story about the dude from his 3-D design class and his pet chipmunk, and then suddenly the third band is coming onstage and Frank's leaning against the wall next to Gerard, eyes sparkling while he listens.
"So his girlfriend calls," Gerard says, "and asks where he is."
Frank's shaking his head, biting his lower lip. "This is not going to end well," he says.
"Shut up, I'm not done," Gerard says. "And then, because I'm a fucking idiot, I tell his girlfriend that he's out looking for Miss Lucy."
"You didn't!" Frank stops fighting and starts cackling with laughter. "Gerard! What the fuck were you thinking?"
"I wasn't!" Gerard says, and then his brain catches up to his mouth and he puts together Frank's wide eyes with what he's just heard. "Also, um."
"So, okay, don't get freaked out," Frank says. He's twisting his fingers together and staring intently at Gerard's shoulder, and he's talking even faster than usual.
"That's not usually a good opener," Gerard says, but Frank keeps going.
"I was really hungover, and Ray was giving me shit about my internet boyfriend and stuff, so I went to the website, and, well." CN has a really shitty picture of Gerard, taken the first day of his second week of work; in it, he's rumpled and red-eyed and hunched into his sweatshirt. Every Halloween, some joker tapes it to the pumpkin on the secretaries' desk, where it stays until the squash goes out to the dumpster.
"—and I was going to say something," Frank says, "but there wasn't a good time, you know?"
Gerard nods slowly. "When—when was this?" He watches Frank swallow and scuff his shoes around.
"The day after the thing—you know, on the train." Gerard keeps staring—he knows he's staring, knows but can't stop—until finally Frank looks back up at him. "Gerard?" he says, reaching forward, resting his hand on Gerard's shoulder and shaking a little. "Gerard, you okay?"
"But—but you knew!" Gerard says.
Frank blinks. He's close enough that Gerard can see every detail: the way his eyelashes bump into one another, the way his pupils contract when the alley light hits them, the shape of the shadow of his nose, the arch of his eyebrows.
"Not until I saw the picture," he says, frowning slightly.
Gerard cuts him off, shaking his head. "Not—I mean, afterwards." Frank shakes his head, still confused, and Gerard sighs. "You knew that I knew," he says, and Frank's eyes go wide.
"Oh," he says. "Yeah, I knew that you'd figured it out—just, you know, there was no good way to bring it up, after that."
Gerard stares at him some more. He's nice to stare at, after all, and as long as Gerard keeps staring, he doesn't have to talk. That's how these things work.
"—but doesn't that bother you?"
Gerard is maybe not very good at not talking.
Frank shrugs. "Why should it? I mean, I figured it out too."
"Because—because, I don't know!" Gerard runs his hands through his hair. "Because I figured it out first and didn't tell you! Because that's kind of creepy!"
"God," he says, "is that what's been bugging you?" He steps forward, even closer, until they're practically nose-to-nose, close enough that when Gerard takes a deep breath, their chests brush. Frank shivers. "Fuck, Gerard," he says. "What the hell made you think that was a problem?"
And then he's leaning up that extra half an inch and throws his arms around Gerard's neck and they're kissing, just like that. From this distance, Gerard's just staring at Frank's eyelids, so he closes his eyes and kisses back, letting his arms slide around Frank, letting Frank move him until he's leaning against the wall, letting Frank kiss him again and again, letting himself kiss back. Frank leans against him, pinning Gerard against the wall, and then bites his lip; Gerard scrapes his neck against the brick, and he's probably going to get infected, probably going to die of gangrene of the neck, but none of that matters if Frank will just keep kissing him.
Then Frank pulls away, giggling.
"I'm sorry," he says, "Really, just—" He breaks off again, hunching over a little bit. "I swear I'm not laughing at you—"
Gerard rolls his eyes, but he can't help grinning back at Frank. "That's a lie," he says. "You're totally laughing at me."
"At us!" Frank says. "It's just—like, we're such fucking losers, you know?"
They really are, but somehow that doesn't bother Gerard as much as maybe it should. He leans forward and presses his mouth to Frank's again, both of them grinning like the losers they are.